Katie Stem and Kate Black met through mutual friends on the banks of the Umpqua River in Washington State.
The two went on to found Peak Extracts in Portland, Oregon, under the medical cannabis program; they became the first adult-use edibles producer licensed in the state.
The two developed a proprietary extraction process, Terp-Lock™ ensuring its products are rich in terpenes, minor cannabinoids and flavonoids; producing full-spectrum concentrates from specific cultivars chosen for their profiles via a “one strain stream,” in small batches with varied strengths, encouraging customers to “Find Your Peak.” Stem hails from Eastern Washington State in the college town of Pullman.
She describes the region as “a tiny blue dot in the middle of a deep red part of the state.” When Washington first legalized, the eastern region banned the sale of cannabis in a knee-jerk reaction that would be turned around as the revenue numbers climbed and the lack of perceived crime became apparent throughout the rest of the mostly liberal state.“In college I was the Sherpa, staying sober, making sure my friends didn’t get into trouble,” she shared. “I’m an uptight person in a lot of ways, and was nervous about smoking, because I thought I’d turn into an idiot.
My dad raised me with horror stories about cannabis, and how everyone he knew who smoked weed were changed by it and became stupid. My dad never smoked pot, but in Vietnam he was in charge of disposing of a pile of Panama Red.”The irony today, she said, is the fact that her dad uses Peak topical balm for back pain.
He also enjoys the chocolates – but, she added that it took years for him to get to that place.“Dad’s warnings aside, when I found out my super-brilliant friend in his 60s had smoked weed for more than 20 years, we began having many conversations about cannabis, and what it meant to him,” she explained. “I was interested in spirituality and mind medication, and he was into that too – altered perception, past lives, altered reality. One thing was certain, the third eye is fully opened with cannabis use.”Partaking by the Snake River, she said, opened another door to heightened sounds, smells, colors; with time from reality delayed. She had transitioned from fearing the plant, to using it as a spiritual awakening tool.
Head High or Remedy?
At 19, while still in college, Stem found that merely smoking cannabis controlled symptoms of digestive issues she’d been having.“I was told it was all in my head and it wasn’t physiological,” she said. “On some level, though, I knew all along cannabis was controlling the cramping and diarrhea. I was in denial of how non-functional I was, and it’s obvious the plant was what I needed to function, both physiologically and emotionally.”During her senior year in college, however, Stem said she became horribly sick.“The diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease was traumatic,” she said. “I was told I had a moderate case, and that it was treatable, but not curable.
They told me it’s a progressive disease and my life expectancy would be just 55 years-old…thank you very much!”Stem began studying Chinese medicine in 2007, earning a Master’s degree from the College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in 2010. She opened her own practice as an acupuncturist and used herbal medicine as a Chinese Herbalist, that continues to this day.
Chinese medicine, she said, opened her mind up to cannabis as medicine.“Whole plant cannabis in Chinese herbal practice is something they’ve known about for centuries,” she said. “It’s been counterproductive to reject plants as remedy in Western medicine.”While still in college, Stem began growing cannabis and making extractions with coco oil infusions.“After the coco had been processed into coco butter with sugar, I’d eat a piece the size of a chocolate chip, and the cramping and pain in my abdomen would be gone in 20 minutes,” she said. “I found that the Blueberry strains worked the best for my Crohn’s, both by ingesting and vaping, and it’s why we still use the strains today in our formulations.”She also learned that the cannabis plant is a known analgesic, and when used in conjunction with other beneficial herbs, creates a synergistic healing effect for myriad ailments.
Coming out with Weed & Women
The diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease was difficult, but harder on her parents, as she feared she may be financially dependent on them for years to come. But the diagnosis was followed with another admission, not of her cannabis use, but of being Gay.“It didn’t go well,” she shared. “It took me another two years to tell them about using cannabis. They are both intellectuals, so they needed to be educated on the subject.”Once cannabis was legal in Washington State, it was easier for her parents to accept. When a Gastrologist prescribed cannabis to treat the Crohn’s diagnosis, they couldn’t argue with her choice any longer.
She eventually landed a job in the neurology department at Oregon State University, studying natural product research versus pharmaceuticals in treating the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.“The drugs in development didn’t pan out, but I developed an appreciation for natural remedies – fish oils, grape seed extracts, green tea. Many of these processes are the way we extract today.”
Peak Extracts, Peak Growth
Stem and Katie Black had been living together in Portland when they developed their first topical balm.“We had been talking about making it commercially,” she said. “We used 12 different herbs with cannabis in that first formulation.
We’d converted the garage in an old house and made it into a work space, with a tiny bench-top CO2 extractor, using a minimum of one pound of plant material, making about one liter of concentrate.”“By the end of 2014, we were in business making our single strain chocolates,” she said. “We use a variety of strains, but are very selective about the farms we work with and source from local cultivators, like Yerba Buena and East Fork Cultivars.
This ensures consistency, with the strains taking on the flavor of the region where they are grown.”Products are color-coded per types of cultivars used, and include indica and sativa dominant, categorized as “bright” or “heavy.”“For instance, we use a heavy sativa, or a color-coded red category on the label, for energizing effects, but with that buzzy, intense feeling that GC4 or Sour Diesel gives,” she said.
A bright option would be an indica, like Blueberry Cookies, which gives an uplifting feeling, but with an indica body feel. The bright sativa is meant to be almost cerebral and promotes activity.”Today, they have a full line of products that took years to perfect, with both THC and CBD ratios in the mix, including CBN, CBG, and CBDa. They also have a wide array of tinctures including its Rescue Rub topical balm full of 12 terpene-rich herbs; and its original, single strain chocolate bars.
The chocolate comes from an unnamed maker that specializes in gourmet dark chocolate couverture, perfect for making consistent bars every time.“The first two years we were in business we didn’t pay ourselves, and borrowed just a small amount of money,” she said. “When someone told us no, we’d change our tactic until they said yes.
We’ve been lucky enough to have exponential growth when others have come and gone from the space around us. It hasn’t been easy to adjust to this new and emerging, changing market, but we are focused on the future. We’ll keep doing what we need to do to step up and go bigger.”
Written and Published By Sharon Letts In Weed World Magazine Issue 147